Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Testing Schmesting

This week students all over Los Angeles are hunkering down for the state tests that have plagued us all for eons. Well, maybe not eons. And maybe not plagued. I, for one, loved taking these tests as a child. Knowing the right answer pleased me, and puzzling out the more difficult ones pleased me more. When I took standardized tests, I felt that I was proving something, showing what I was made of, bringing it all together at the end of the year.
I am afraid that this is not the case for the most of ths students I teach today. For many students in urban school districts, the tests are nearly punishment. "Do well or our school will get less money." "Try hard or next year you might not have art class!" These are the messages sent to sweet sixth, seventh, and eight grade souls who are struggling to keep their heads above water on a normal school day, let alone one packed with such cruel consequences.
As library media teacher I no longer have a class to test, so I was assigned to assist in a 6th-grade classroom. When I asked how many of the students had remembered to prepare for the test by eating breakfast, six kids raised their hands. Six children had eaten breakfast. This is no good. Something else that is not good is the fact that it was six out of thirty-seven! 37 students were crammed into a classroom to take a test that holds the school's fate in its hands. One was sitting at a table that was piled with textbooks, only a small clear space in front of him in which to spread out his testing materials. Another sat at a computer table, shoving the keyboard and mouse to the side to make room. No distractions there! The rest of the kids were sitting at group tables, facing each other. FACING EACH OTHER. Not good. Did I mention that the air-conditioning was not working? It was sweltering inside that room. 37 kids x 98.6 degrees + hooded sweatshirts to cover up ugly uniforms + no breakfast = disasterous results. I believe this is what is called a stacked deck.
This will go on all week. It is torture for all involved. Will the results tell us what these students have learned in a year? Will they tell us that the school has recently added art, drama, anthropology, digital imaging, and computer classes after a seven-year drought of no elective classes? Will they tell us that the assistant principal plays jazz and world music over speakers at lunchtime? Can the test possibly show that these students are begging to take home one of the library's praying mantises, or that they want to do well so badly they could cry?
As I left the testing room to wander back to my oasis, I saw a hand-drawn sign adorning a science class door that read "We Will Do Are Best On The Test." I nearly wept.

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